Tagged! Flex is "It"
Scientists Track an Endangered Whale

Who is Flex?
He is a 13-year old male Western Pacific gray whale, tagged for tracking by a *team of American and Russian scientists on October 4, 2010. He was tagged off Sakhalin Island, Russia, where he has often been seen during summers since he was photographed as a calf in 1997. Flex spent just over two months feeding near where he was tagged. Then he took off. Within just a few weeks he was speeding across the Bering Sea. He turned down to the Gulf of Alaska and then down the West Coast, totally surprising the scientists who applied the tag. Flex has entered the same migration route as the whales we track in Journey North! The scientists followed Flex's movements via satellite. Why? And where is Flex now?

Only 130 Remain
Flex is not one of the more abundant eastern Pacific gray whales followed on Journey North. Instead, he is from the only other herd of Gray whales in the world, the endangered herd off the far-away coast of Russia and Japan. Many fear that these western Pacific gray whales will go extinct. Only about 130 remain. The oil industry has encroached upon the herd's feeding grounds, and details of their migration route(s) and breeding ground(s) are not known. Scientists hope to learn more and help the herd before it's too late.

Lost and Found
After five days of no signals from Flex early in February 2011, trackers were thrilled to get a location for him. He was about 450 km west of the north end of Vancouver Island. He traveled on to locations off Grays Harbor, Washington, and then off Siltez Bay (near Depoe Bay, Whale Observation Post #12 on the Journey North migration map). Flex had been traveling at 6.6 km per hour. If Flex were headed to Baja, Mexico, his arrival in early March would have been after many single whales had already left that region and were heading north. Here's a map of Flex's travels.

What a Journey!
Since leaving the Kamchatka Peninsula, ‘Flex’ was tracked more than 8,000 kilometers over 124 days with an average speed of 6.6 km per hour during his migration. The last location received from Flex was off Siletz Bay on Feb. 4, 2011. With his last measured speed of 6.6 km per hour, he would arrived at the at the west end of the Santa Barbara Channel Sunday, February 13. But Flex's signal has not been heard in recent days, so Flex's tag fell off or quit working.

Where is Flex Now? What's Next?
The team of scientists hoped that Flex would be seen by collaborators who had his identification photos — if not here along the west coast of North America, then possibly back at Sakhalin Island or along the Kamchatka Peninsula during the 2011 feeding season. Sure enough, during summer 2011 tagging efforts, researchers did see Flex several times. He appeared to be in good body condition and, while scarred, the tag area had healed.] For updates, go to Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute.

Good luck, Flex!

This research was conducted by A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEE RAS) and Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute; in collaboration with the University of Washington, Sakhalin Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography, and Kronotsky State Nature Biosphere Reserve. The research was contracted through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with funding from Exxon Neftegas Ltd. and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd.